7 real things you can do right now about the catastrophe in Aleppo.

Syrian government troops are attempting to capture the remaining sections of Aleppo, and its citizens are in grave danger.  

Aleppo Residents flee rebel-held areas of the city. Photo by Karam Al-Masri/Getty Images.

The humanitarian disaster, which has been ongoing for months, has gotten far worse in the past few days, with terrified residents, caught between government forces, Russian airstrikes, and rebel forces tweeting desperate pleas for help and final messages to loved ones. Reports of women committing suicide to avoid being raped and civilians being executed by regime forces have begun to filter out of the city.


Meanwhile, the once-thriving region has been reduced to rubble and chaos over the course of the past several months. Russia has announced an end to the military operation, claiming victory, and reports of a cease-fire between government and rebel forces have been issued, but both have yet to be confirmed by the United Nations at the time of this writing. 50,000 civilians are still believed to be in the eastern part of the city.

It's easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed and want to turn away from a story like this. The news is bleak — and likely to get bleaker. But those of us with the good fortune to live in safety have a responsibility to do what we can to help. And there are ways to help.

Most involve donating to organizations that are on the ground in or around Aleppo. We know not everyone has money to spare, but if you can make it work, providing much needed funds to these organizations is the most efficient way to assist at a crucial moment like this.

1. Support the White Helmets.

The White Helmets respond to the aftermath of an airstrike. Photo by Mohamed Al-Bakour/Getty Images.

Led by Raed Al-Saleh, this homegrown search-and-rescue force, which operates in rebel-controlled Syria, including Aleppo, has saved tens of thousands of their countrymen over the course of the conflict — pulling bombing victims out of rubble, raising money for prosthetics, and supporting the families of fallen comrades.

Some critics of the organization argue that the group hides a political mission, which advocates for regime change and policies that have exacerbated the violence. But right now, they're saving lives, and in a crisis moment, that matters more.

You can donate on their website.

2. Support Doctors Without Borders.

The aftermath of the destruction of a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Syria. Photo by Omar Haj Kadour/Getty Images.

The global, nonpartisan medical relief organization is still active on the ground across the country, providing local medical facilities, which have been decimated by the war, with equipment, supplies, and, where possible, personnel.

You can give them money here.

3. Support the Syrian American Medical Society.

Medical professionals protest near the United Nations. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

The group runs dozens of medical operations in Syria and the countries that have taken in the largest share of refugees from the war, treating nearly 3 million Syrians in 2015.

You can sign up to volunteer or donate here.

4. Support the International Rescue Committee.

The IRC supports people who flee war and conflict in countries around the world, including Syrian refugees.

Here's how to support them in turn.

5. Support Save the Children.

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images.

Save the Children works with internally displaced and refugee children and families affected by the conflict.

You can read more about what they're doing and pledge support here.

6. Go to a protest, or start one.

Londoners and residents of Istanbul are taking to the streets to demand action from local officials on the growing crisis.

If you live in those cities, join them to demand action from local officials. Or organize a protest effort where you are.

7. Support refugees.

Aleppo residents flee the rebel-held section of town. hoto by Karam Al-Masri/Getty Images.

There are millions of them all over the world. The terrorization and dismemberment of Aleppo? This is what they're fleeing. This exactly.

Since refugees from the conflict started flooding into the West in 2011, their fate has become a political football, exploited by candidates and causes in countries across Europe and North America to stoke fear and win elections. This should stop. The most compassionate thing we can do is to put aside our fears of terror and the unfamiliar and give them a chance to rebuild their lives among us. And to give those who still suffer on the ground hope that there's a better life available to them, should they manage to escape.

You can donate to the UN Refugee Agency. Or Questscope, which provides education and counseling resources to refugees living in Jordan. Or the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which helps shepherd refugees making the perilous sea-crossing into Europe to safety.

More importantly, you can call your senator or congressperson and tell them that you won't support them if they don't support expanding the U.S.'s Refugee Admissions program to admit more than the woefully inadequate 10,000 Syrians we resettled in 2016.

What's happening in Aleppo isn't just a humanitarian tragedy, it's a moral crisis. It's a time to put aside our fears and apathy, to get real, and to act as best and as effectively as each of us can.

If we don't, we'll never stop asking ourselves why we didn't.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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